Hoya Highlight: Flynn Coleman (SFS’03)

Flynn Coleman is a writer, international human rights lawyer, professor, public speaker, activist, and the author of A Human Algorithm.

Time on the Hilltop
What was your favorite class or who was your favorite professor at Georgetown?
It’s hard to choose just one! I find myself coming back to the classes I took and thinking of them often. Professor McMorrow taught me so much about human rights; her class was wonderful.

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?
I had so many awesome experiences at Georgetown. Studying abroad in Chile and my experiences there were memorable; also, celebrating with my friends at graduation. I have endless good memories of playing on the women’s soccer team, including traveling with my team and building strong friendships with my teammates throughout college and beyond. I still keep in touch with the women’s soccer program; I recently did a Zoom call with the current team to share my experiences and to speak with everyone. It was a joy to be able to connect with the team in these difficult days.

What advice would you give your younger self (or current Georgetown students)?
“Your job is to find your voice amidst the crowd.” It can be hard to find your voice, especially with so much information (and disinformation) coming at us everyday; but everyone has a story and a voice; use yours to amplify the causes you believe in, to support justice and equity, and to, as Rep. John Lewis called it, make “good trouble.” With the proliferation of social media, there is a lot of noise and it can feel difficult to find our place. And so finding your own voice, and using it to help others, is part of the great adventure of life. If we want to build a better world, we have to use our collective voices for good.

How has Georgetown shaped you?
What I learned at SFS has broadened my horizons and enriched my life in countless ways. Without question, the global intellectual foundation, language skills, and intersectional, cross-cultural, interdisciplinary education that I gained at Georgetown are fundamental to everything I do. I have been heavily influenced by the values of cura personalis and social justice that I discovered on the Hilltop.

Career Reflections
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
I’ve been lucky to have received a lot of great advice from many brilliant people. But, one saying that comes to mind is, “everyone’s path relies on hard work and resilience.” There will always be difficulties, storms, and challenges, but the key is to turn everything to an opportunity, a chance to build a brighter world from what we have learned. In my class on redefining success I focus a lot on this idea.

What are the big trends in your industry you’re seeing now?
I work across many different industries and sectors. In my book, A Human Algorithm(link is external), about the future of AI and humanity, I discuss the need to humanize technology while also building room for humans to thrive. This idea is becoming more relevant than ever. We are being thrust into the digital world during a global pandemic, civil unrest, and mass unemployment. There has been an acceleration of technology in the past few months as some industries and professions are being thrown upside down. And millions still lack access to reliable internet, exacerbating inequalities and widening the digital divide. We are also seeing real breakdowns in society; issues that have always been there, festering wounds that are being laid bare—there’s still so much progress to be made in protecting and advancing human rights. Facing our history and our flaws, and moving towards equity for all will be critical for progress. If we’re not infusing civil, economic, and environmental rights into the future of technology, we are risking all of our futures, as well as those of the generations who will come next.

A Day In the Life
What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?
Connecting with people. Compassionate connections and courageous conversations are how we make the world better. And jumping in where I can help is crucial to my personal and professional mission. When problems feel overwhelming, I ground myself in what I am doing now, and I look to advocate for others however I can. Connect with your loved ones, and check in on those most vulnerable and most marginalized, bringing them to the center. And when your routine is overthrown, do what you can with what you have in that moment.

What’s one book you’d recommend to everyone?
I am a lifelong, voracious reader of books, so I couldn’t possibly choose just one. Some of the many books that I believe everyone should read are: Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, These Truths by Jill Lepore, and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Also, any (and all) of Brené Brown’s books and powerful research on vulnerability and bravery (especially now). And, I have to put in a plug to please support your local independent bookstores (especially Black-owned bookstores).

What are your words to live by?
In my book, I mention Georgetown’s beloved class “The Problem of God.” One important lesson that class teaches is something that Rainer Maria Rilke also said: which is to “live the questions.” Some questions have answers, but many do not. As life remains so tenuous and uncertain, live in those questions, now. When you stay curious, and are willing to live within the uncertainty, you often uncover answers you didn’t even know you were looking for. We need to find a way to embrace uncertain times; for the uncertain spaces are where we grow, where we can learn to do better. This is the nature of being human.

Learn more: flynncoleman.community

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